The Authority of Sacred Texts in Science Fiction

Authored by: James H. Thrall

The Routledge Companion to Literature and Religion

Print publication date:  May  2016
Online publication date:  April  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415834056
eBook ISBN: 9780203498910
Adobe ISBN: 9781135051105


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It is hard to adequately describe the diversity of representations of sacred texts in science fiction (SF): the inventiveness of the genre means that it engages the idea of sacredness in widely varied and often complex ways. Certainly the sharp distinction Mircea Eliade draws between profane, everyday experience, and the sacred as Rudolph Otto’s “wholly other” quickly blurs as authors conceive of new ways to draw on the concept. 2 Texts in SF stories may be identified as sacred because they are founding sources for religious faiths or claim supernatural provenance, but also because they function as authoritative guides for life, provide all-encompassing visions of purpose or order, or are simply deemed worthy of preservation, among other reasons. In this range of uses, sacredness may be a quality that is applied as much as it is discovered, reflecting the term’s roots in French and Latin verbs for the active process of setting something apart. 3 According to Doris Lessing, sacred texts are inherently different. “The sacred literatures of all races and nations have many things in common. Almost as if they can be regarded as the products of a single mind,” she writes. “It is possible we make a mistake when we dismiss them as quaint fossils from a dead past.” 4 Similarly, in Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962), Japanese trade missioner Nobusuke Tagomi defends his reliance on the I Ching:

We are absurd … because we live by a five-thousand-year-old book. We ask it questions as if it were alive. It is alive. As is the Christian Bible; many books are actually alive. Not in metaphoric fashion. Spirit animates it. Do you see? 5

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